Monday, June 20, 2016

Classics of the Liturgical Movement: Dom Pius de Hemptinne

Readers of the works of Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B., know firsthand the riches he spreads before us — a veritable banquet of the mystical life, rooted in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional liturgy. Relatively few, however, are aware of his disciples and the correspondence he conducted with men and women throughout the world, especially religious men and women who turned to him for spiritual direction at a distance. One of these disciples was a monk, Dom Pius de Hemptinne, O.S.B. (1879–1907), who left behind precious spiritual writings of his own.

In keeping with the purpose of my occasional “Classics of the Liturgical Movement” series, I would like to share with NLM readers some excerpts from the writings of Dom Pius, who gives expression to a profoundly Benedictine fusion of liturgy, personal prayer, and the whole of life, including the message of the natural world. In this way he illuminates and encourages us to live ever more deeply the meaning of the sacred mysteries.

All excerpts are drawn from A Disciple of Dom Marmion, Dom Pius de Hemptinne: Letters and Spiritual Writings, trans. Benedictines of Teignmouth (London: Sands & Co., 1935).

On the Liturgy and the Eucharist

The death of a God, dying for the salvation of men, is the central point in the history of mankind. All ages bear witness to and converge towards it: the preceing centuries point to its coming, the others are destined to harvest its fruits.
The death of Christ is the centre of history, and also the centre of the life of each man in particular. In the eyes of God every man will be great in proportion as he takes part in that deed; for the only true and eternal dignity is that belonging to the divine Priest. The degree of each one’s holiness will be in exact proportion as he participates in that bloody immolation. For the Lamb of God alone is holy.
But although Jesus Christ the divine High Priest appeared only once on earth, to offer up His great sacrifice on Calvary; yet, every day He appears in the person of each one of His ministers, to renew His sacrifice on the altar. In every altar, then, Calvary is seen: every altar becomes an august place, the Holy of holies, the source of all holiness. Thither all must go to seek Life, and thither all must continually return, as to the source of God’s mercies. Those who are the Master’s privileged ones, never leave this holy place, but there they “find a dwelling,” near to the altar, so that they never need go far from it; such are monks, whose first care it is to raise temples worthy to contain altars. Making their home by the Sanctuary, they consecrate their life to the divine worship, and every day sees them grouped around the altar for the holy sacrifice. This is the event of the day, the centre to which the Hours, like the centuries, all converge: some as Hours of preparation and awaiting in the recollection of the divine praise — these begin with Lauds and Prime continued by Terce, the third Hour of the day; the others, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, flow on in the joys of thanksgiving until sunset when the monks chant the closing in of night.
Thus the days of life pass, at the foot of the altar; thus the life of man finds its greatness and its holiness in flowing out, so to say, upon the altar, there to mingle with that Precious Blood which is daily shed in that hallowed place: for, if the life of man is as a valueless drop of water, when lost in the Blood of Christ it acquires an infinite value and can merit the divine mercy for us. He who knows what the altar is, from it learns to live; to live by the altar is to be holy, pleasing to God,—and to go up to the altar to perform the sacred Mysteries is to be clothed upon with the most sublime of all dignities after that of the Son of God and His holy Mother.  (pp. 145–47)
A pure kiss is the great mark of love. A kiss may be given from different motives, as there are many kinds of love — but it is always the sign of a perfect union, of mutual and entire complaisance. . . . A true, sincere and faithful kiss is a noble act; but a false kiss is an infidelity, and almost always a betrayal. This mark of affection should only be given between persons united by blood or marriage. Between friends it should have only the meaning of union of souls; sensual motives should have no part there. The kiss of friendship is so great and noble a sign that it is given around the Altar. Here it is the Christian kiss, and under these conditions remains pure and sublime as love itself. But who knows the worth of a kiss? On all sides, this sign — like love itself — is profaned. (February 23, 1902, p. 140)
Jesus Christ is the great Master of souls. He nourishes them with His Flesh, His Blood and His whole Self. He really makes Himself their Food. And, just so, it seems to me that no one receives the care of souls without taking upon himself the duty of feeding them with his own self. We must give ourselves up to the souls put in our charge, with such fullness of love that the grace given to our own souls shall overflow into theirs.
We shall meet, perhaps, with souls that are famished, weak or wounded: little souls that throw themselves on to us, and would fain feed from us with too great avidity and familiarity. Such conduct will wound us, as it wounds Jesus Christ. But after His example we must feed these poor sheep, in order that they may recover strength and life.
O Jesus, from this day forward grant that the souls given into my care may drawn from my poor heart the grace that Thou givest me. It is Thou Thyself who hungerest; eat, then, and drink all that Thou findest in my poor house. May my soul be a manger where Thy lambs can be filled with Thee. (June 4, 1902, pp. 148–49)
Most holy and eternal Father, your divine Son has taught us that no one can come to Him unless you draw him, and that none shall be lost of those whom you have given Him. I beg of you, therefore, in the name of the mutual love you bear to Him and He to you, to offer me and all whom I love to this divine Son, begotten of you, so that being born again in Him, your Word, we may have a share in the eternal glory which He gives to you, and that we may thus be sanctified in you.
Eternal Son, whose holiness is equal to that of the Father, you have promised that “when lifted up from the earth, you would draw all to yourself.” Draw me, then, to you, O well-beloved of my soul, that being fed by you I may live by you, even as you live by your Father.
Holy Spirit, who descended upon the Virgin to accomplish the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, come down upon me, O joy of my heart and strength of my soul! Impregnate me, to the end that Jesus Christ may grow in me, so that by your power, the closest union may be effected between my Saviour and my poor soul, inflamed by your love.
O adorable Trinity, look down and behold how I burn with longing to glorify you — see how my soul shrinks into nothingness — see how little it is — how it abandons itself utterly to you! . . . I love you by the Heart of Jesus and by every one of the souls on earth, and therefore I will bring them all to you. To this end, Christ Jesus, only object of my desires, I take refuge in the bosom of your Father, and in His Name I give you all these precious souls, that not one of them may perish. Uniting myself to you, I offer them all to the Father, for the eternal honor and glory of the most adorable Trinity. Amen. (April 18, 1901)

On Prayer

Labour is preceded and followed by rest; rest restores the strength and fits it for fresh effort. So it ought to be with the soul of the monk. His work is divine praise; his rest is prayer. In the first, he sings to God; in the second, he reposes in Him; first celebrating the object of its love, and then giving itself up to the caresses of that Love whom it adores. In that solemn prayer, the soul like a soaring eagle gives a few strokes with its wings, but soon rests in prayer and lets itself be borne on the impetus of grace.
The fruit of self-surrender is found in the ineffable peace and sweet repose which the soul, by the effect of loving confidence in God, keeps in the midst of difficult and sometimes inextricable situations. (p. 171)

On Nature as Revelation

A soul in love with the beauties of nature, which reveal God to it, does not want to dissect in genders and species the One, Indivisible Object of its admiration, but prefers to contemplate the works of the Creator with the simplicity of love. Is it not enough for the enthusiasm of a pure soul to admire the picturesque rocks in a lovely valley; to see their mantle of moss freshly watered drop by drop; the torrent rushing at their feet and then spreading a silver cloth over the verdant fields? A thousand flowerets perfume the air; hidden under its leaves, the violet is betrayed by its fragrance, the wild lilies open their chalices wide and look up to heaven. How many wonders of beauty that escape our notice! . . . And, if, in the silence of your soul, you listen to that voice of nature that speaks to your heart, you will hear one flower telling you, “I speak of humility” – another – “I love purity” – the crystal water says, “I praise chastity” – and the rose calls aloud, “I sing of love.” Listen to all these voices chiming together in such wondrous harmony, and you will better understand the praise sent up by Nature to her Author. (p. 115)
When twilight is ended and all around is silent, and nature alone, plunged in profound recollection, speaks aloud of the Divine Author of all things: then the pure soul hears and understand you, O God. . . . Yes, indeed – at the close of an autumn day, some mysterious influence which I cannot express seems to descend from heaven, and to hush the noises of broad day, even as the fading of noontide glare. How good it is – this time of peaceful dusk, enwrapping our very being and penetrating us with the sense of our need of love! So, surely, when all is tranquilly silent within the soul, when the passions seem to sleep and cease to excite it to the feverish pursuit of frivolous things, or even to a restless search after things divine – if the soul knows how to dwell “at home within itself” – what loving silence it will find in this interior sanctuary! This solitude is full of God! (September 1901, pp. 122-23)
Suffering isolates [us] from creatures. He who knows God is drawn into closer union with Him by suffering, but he who knows Him not, loses everything – created things fall away from him, and to divine things he is a stranger. To unite oneself to Thee, my God, in the silence of crucified nature, of a humble spirit, with a pure heart and in oblivion of all besides — this is not merely to love — but to live! (p. 122)


A good action, being not so much the work of human frailty as of the divine Mercy, is not our best claim to merit before God. Man has his little share — not much more than his goodwill — the great part is God’s, since it was He who inspired the thought and gave the strength to perform the action. Thus, such an act is at once a sign and as assured pledge of God’s goodness in our regard. Our true Title to the divine favour is the Blood of Christ, to which we have the right through our own destitution and humbly acknowledged frailty. (January 26, 1902, p. 139)
When divine love has grown sufficiently in the soul to produce union between the soul and God; when that union has become deep enough to bear no longer the fragile stamp of human fidelity, but depends solely on the strong foundations of faith in immutable Truth; when that union has gained enough intimacy to allow of a holy familiarity (born of a more enlightened knowledge of the Divinity) — then, for the first time, the soul sees itself in God. The sight of the Infinite teaches it the nothingness of the finite: as soon as the soul considers the divine goodness, immediately it sees its own wretchedness. The warmth of divine charity makes it feel the chill of its own tepidity. The vision of the great All produces the understanding and scorn of the Nothing. It ponders over these things with the strength of reason and now it fathoms them by the light of faith. Formerly its action was guided by human wisdom, but henceforward by the touch of a divine influence. The soul now feels its own very littleness but this gives it an infinite peace, for even its own nothingness is to it a divine truth, divinely understood. (pp. 141–42, emphasis added)
The divine Master made me understand the necessity of ever advancing in the way of union of the soul with His own Sacred Heart. Herein, indeed, lies the principle of our life, the condition of our spiritual fecundity, and, as a consequence, our sanctity. Let us give all to Jesus. I feel so strongly that He asks from us all that we do, whether of good or indifferent things; let us bring them all to Him, like grain that has not yet been winnowed. He will refine the harvest Himself, and will increase its value by reason of the confidence which inspires us. How simple, then, is perfection! And yet, where do people go to look for it? But there is nothing astonishing in that; unless we consider how mistakenly men rely upon their own human strength in supernatural things; and, too, how the simple understanding of true holiness is a very rare grace. I believe it is the precious pearl of the Gospel. (Letter of October 8, 1902, p. 245)
In the ordinary course of things, God perfects us more through waiting — through asking us to wait — than through anything else. (p. 213)

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